The Action Plan for Jobs incorporates a wide range of measures to support growth in areas under my remit. Critical among these, are initiatives in relation to the digital economy and improvements to energy efficiency. The National Digital Strategy was published in 2013 and contains a series of actions aimed at stimulating digital engagement. A key initiative in the Action Plan for Jobs, reflecting commitments in the National Digital Strategy, is the implementation of a Trading Online Scheme. This initiative aims to help Irish businesses improve their competitiveness and grow by having access to new markets and a wider customer base. A Trading-online Voucher scheme is being designed and will be rolled out nationally later this year. The scheme will target 2,000 small Irish businesses over a period of two years. A study by the European Commission estimated that companies that have a meaningful online trading presence, grow twice as fast, export twice as much and employ twice as many people. With 70% of Ireland's annual online spend currently going overseas, targeting Irish businesses for online trading is a key jobs and economic imperative.
The Action Plan for Jobs and the National Digital Strategy also underline the importance of ensuring young people are equipped with the skills required for the modern economy. My Department and the Department of Education and Skills are funding an ambitious programme that will see all second level schools in Ireland having a 100Mbps broadband connection by the beginning of the 2014- 2015 school year. In tandem with this, my Department is engaging with schools to optimise the use of technology in the classroom. Together with curriculum developments being overseen by the Department of Education and Skills, these programmes aim to position Ireland's future workforce to compete and contribute in an increasingly global jobs economy.
The 2014 Action Plan for Jobs also includes the further implementation of the National Broadband Plan as a priority action. The National Broadband Plan will facilitate the provision of high speed broadband across the country. This in turn should help smaller non-urban businesses to realise the full potential of trading in a digital economy and stimulate growth in rural areas.
As set out in the Action Plan for Jobs 2013, over the period to 2020, it is intended to transform Ireland into one of the most energy efficient economies in Europe, yielding a significant jobs dividend in a range of areas, including retrofitting, energy management services and the development and manufacturing of energy efficient products.
Under the 2014 Plan, €13.5 million will be provided for the Better Energy Communities scheme, €20 million for the Better Energy Homes scheme and €20 million for the Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme in 2014, which collectively will sustain 3,500 jobs in energy efficiency installations. 2014 will also see a broadening and deepening of supports to industry. A key initiative in this regard is the financing of energy efficiency improvements through the Energy Efficiency Fund. It is envisaged that the Fund will make commercial finance available to two main types of energy efficiency projects in public and commercial sectors, Energy Performance Contracts (EPCs) where funding is lent to an Energy Services Company (“ESCO”) and direct lending to the client company.